George Hooker Colton.

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with the despotic tempered sage of Monti-
cello, whose pride was sorely touched at
being thus unexpectedly levelled with one
who had hitherto attracted but little notice
beyond the limits of his own state. From
the hour when the vote was announced in
the Senate Chamber, to the gloomy day
when Burr returned from Europe, long
years afterward, friendless, poverty-stric-
ken, and broken-hearted, the envious eye
of Jefferson was fixed upon him, and mis-
fortune and persecution, thus powerfully
directed, hunted him to a premature and
unhonored obscurity. The unrelenting
hatred of Jefierson can be accounted for in
no other way, that history has so far de-
veloped. The good fortune of Burr was
his only offence, in this instance ; though,
as regarded others, he had an awful crime
to answer for. His murderous hand had
laid low the most intimate friend and
counsellor of Washington, the main au.thor
and expounder of the Constitution, whose
profound mind and ready hand had aided
more than any other's to carry into success-
ful practice the project of our government.
Of this, more anon.

Through this equality of votes betwixt
the two democratic candidates the choice
of a President devolved upon the House
of Representatives The balloting began
on the morning of the 17th of February



1850.



TJiomas Jefferson.



183



1801, and continued, with few intervals,
through a period of seven days, without a
clear result. All Washington was in a fer-
ment. The galleries and lobbies of the
House were daily crowded to overflowing
with anxious spectators, and Pennsylvania
avenue was thronged with messengers pass-
ing alternately from the Capitol to the
White House, bearing the news of each
successive ballot to its nervous occupant —
Jefferson was on the ground, presiding
daily in the Senate Chamber, and watched
the progress of the struggle with all the in-
quietude incident to a dubious state of
mind, and with all the eager solicitude of
an aspiring and ambitious spirit. Burr
designedly absented himself, having first
placed his political fortunes in the hands
and at the discretion of a judicious person-
al friend. It had been resolved at the out-
set that the House should discard all other
business during the pendency of the elec-
tion, and that it should not adjourn until
an election was effected. This body was
composed of singular materials, in a politi-
cal sense, for the business which had now
devolved upon it. The vote of the colleges
had shown clearly that there was a demo-
cratic majority of States. But of the one
hundred and four members who th6n form-
ed the House of Representatives, a majority
were zealous federalists. The position in
which they were thus placed was one of
peculiar and painful delicacy. Both the
candidates for Presidential honors were
democrats, and one of them the founder and
leader of that opposition party which, be-
ginning stealthily during Washington's ad-
ministration, had pursued federal men and
federal principles with a rancor scarcely
paralleled in the history of faction. For
these reasons both were objectionable ; but,
as may be very well imagined, Jefferson
was viewed, particularly, with strong feel-
ings both of personal and political hostility
by the majority in whose hands lay the is-
sue of the election. During two or three
days, therefore, Burr seemed to be deci-
dedly the favorite of the federalists, and his
prospects of success brightened in a man-
ner that cast dismay and gloom over the
ranks of the Jeffersonians. They grew out-
^ rageous in their course, and uttered threats
which plainly indicated the anarchical and
revolutionary tendency of their political
principles. They insisted that the yeople



intended Jefferson should be President,
they even attempted to bully the refracto-
ry members, by declaring that, if the House
did not chose him, an armed democratic
force from the neighboring states would
march upon the District to compel his elec-
tion, or else, with Cromwellian intolerance,
dissolve and break up the Congress, that
" better men might occupy their places."
The record of this fact is furnished in the
third volume of the work before us, and its
authenticity confirmed by Jefferson himself,
in a letter to James Monroe, dated on the
fifth day of the protracted and exciting
contest. Nor is the annunciation of such
resolves at all irreconcilable with the pre-
vious political manifestos of our distin-
guished subject, notvv'ithstanding that the
lanaiuao-e of the Constitution conferring the
power of choice, in such contigency, di-
rectly and solely on the House of Repre-
sentatives, is clear, pointed, and unmista-
kable.

His known sympathy with the Shayites,
the Whiskey Insurrectionists, and the Ja-
cobin clubs of Philadelphia, and his con-
nexion with the Nullification Pronuncia-
mientos of the Virginia Legislature, as well
as this threat of armed resistance, show
clearly enough his contempt for the Con-
stitution, and the disorganizing elements
which lay at the root of his political
opinions.

But this was only one among the exci-
ting rumors which distracted the city of
Washington during that stormy period.
Various stories were afloat of bribes and
accommodating offers, of Burr's open bids,
and of Jefferson's private overtures. Among
the rest it was currently whispered that the
federal majority of the House being unable,
after repeated trials, to make favorable
terms with either of the candidates, and
finding that the whole power was lodged
with them, had resolved to prevent any
choice, by prolonging the contest until after
the fourth of March, or to pass a law vest-
ing the Executive power in some other per-
son. In the same letter referred to above,
Jefferson declares his apprehensions of such
a course, and goes on to deprecate and de-
nounce it. " It is not improbable, says a
distinguished writer, " that, from the ab-'
horrence which some members may have
felt at seeing Mr. Jefferson in the office of
President, means were spoken of to pre-



184



Thomas Jefferson.



Angust,



vent such a national disaster. Doubtless
the federalists would have done anything
vhich they believed to be constitutional
and dutiful to prevent it ; but no such
propositions are supposed to have been dis-
cussed." And, indeed, hard as the trial
TS^as to political opponents, forced thus to
sisn, as it were, the warrant for their own
political annihilation, the records show that
the federalists sought only the most favor-
able terms in their negotiations with the
friends of the two democratic rival candi-
dates. There was no avoiding the issue —
no shrinking from the responsibility, and
it is clear, on a review of the proceedings,
that an election was determined on from
the beginning.

The seventh day dawned on the contest,
and thirty-five ballotings had been taken
"without an election. At length the strug-
gle was terminated in a manner the most
singular, and at the instance of a person-
age who might have been supposed to be
the last man in the United States to inter-
fere in a contest betwixt Aaron Burr and
Thomas JetFerson. This was Alexander
Hamilton. Hamilton regarded Burr with
a species of horror that seems to have pro-
ceeded less from malign feeling, than from
an innate consciousness of his utter want of
principle, or the least moral susceptibility.
Jefferson, too, had long been his political
adversary and strong personal enemy, but
when consulted by his friends as to the
choice of evils, we are told that Hamilton
unhesitatingly and most strenuously urged
that the preference should be given to the
latter. This, most probably, may have
been the first link in that fatal chain of
personal animosities which ended with the
tragedy of Hobokcn.

It soon transpired that the majority had
been, by some means, sufficiently united to
bring the election to a close, and on the
seventh day, every member was in his seat.
The House presented a remarkable specta-
cle, strongly illustrative of the intense ex-
citement then prevading the whole circles
of Washington society. Many of the
members were aged and infirm, and many
worn down with fatigue, were seriously in-
disposed, as the array of pale faces and
languid eyes plainly showed. Some were
accomodated, from pressing considerations
of prudence, with huge easy chairs. Oth-
ers, ap-ain, were reclinin;r on beds or



couches, almost in a state of bodily exhaus-
tion, induced by mental anxiety and suffer-
ing. Indeed, we are told by a contempo-
raneous writer, that one member was so
prostrated as to require the attention of his
wife throughout the day's sitting. The
Departments, also, and bureaus, and va-
rious offices attached, were deserted, that
their incumbents might be present at the
expected final of the great political drama
which had created, during its enactment of
nigh seven days, an interest of unprecedent-
ed intensity. Numbers of grave Senators
left their seats in the Chamoer to occupy
the benches of the lobby, or to squeeze
their way among privileged spectators who
filled the body of the House : while the
gallery teemed with countless faces, and
groaned under the weight of a crowd, the
like of which had never before pressed on
the stately pillars that supported it. At
length the tellers took their scats. The
ballots were deposited slowly, one by one,
and then amidst a breathless silence that
seemed ominous in view of the vast num-
bers assembled, the counting began. The
representatives for sixteen states had voted.
The result showed that out of these sixteen
ballots, there were ten for Jefferson, four
for Burr, and two blank. Under these
circtimstances, after a struggle ' of seven
days duration, and after thirty-sik trials,
was Thomas Jefferson elected President of
the United States. It is more than pro-
bable that if Burr had exerted himself in
the least, had made the least concession,
or suffered his friends to pledge him to le-
niency as regarded the distribution of offi-
ces, he would have prevailed ; and although
it is unquestionable that Jefferson had been
intended by the people for the first office,
we cannot doubt that the choice of Burr by
the House would have been acquiesced in
and ratified as a strictly legitimate and con-
stitutional proceeding. In long after years
a similar contest occurred in the case of
John Quincy Adams, who having been
thrown before the House of Representa-
tives with a far inferior electoral vote to
Andrew Jackson, was, nevertheless, chosen
President by that body on the first ballot;
and the people unseduced by the danger-
ous theories which Jefferson had inculcated
previously in his own case, did not " march
an armed force from the neighboring states
to co??2;/;£'Z" a different choice. This quiet



1850.



Thomas Jefferson.



185



submission to the constituted authority
would have been the same in 1801 as in
1825, the malevolent eifortsof theJefferso-
nians to the contrary notwith.standing.

The acme of political elevation did not,
in one sense, operate to destroy in JeiFerson
that inclination to demagoguism which had
hitherto characterized him. The hard
struggle it had cost his friends to make
him President rather whetted than abated
his ambition, and his ardor for power in-
creased in proportion as it had been diffi-
cult to secure it. His first acts after en-
tering the White House showed that he
was casting his net for easy re-election at
the end of four years. He began by an
emphatic repudiation of all the convention-
al customs and etiquette established by
Washington and followed up by John
Adams. The levees and drawing-rooms
of Washington were given in a manner to
impose the highest notions of official digni-
ty, and were subjected to such rules of eti-
quette as seemed fit to govern receptions
at the mansion of the chief officer of the
government. Mr. Adams did not depart
from these ; but Jefferson, at once abolish-
ed all ceremony, and threw open his doors
to every swaggerer who chose to intrude.
He had no regular or stated hours for vis-
iting. He was accessible at any hour, to
any person. His personal deportment was
ever cringing, and amounted to an excess
of humility that inspired a feeling of dis-
gust, because, among other things, it was
seen that affectation was at the bottom of
such unseemly deference. He maintained
no equipage. He rode about the avenues
of Washington on an ugly shambling hack
of a horse, which, it is said, was hardly
fitted to drag a tumbril. His whole ad-
dress and manner, indicated this subser-
viency to the same species of affectation
that prompts a backwoods Methodist ex-
horter to elongate his face^ to solemnize
his looks, and to converse and read in a
sepulcaral tone. In fact, his receptions
soon became a source of mortification to
our own community, and furnished a
subject of ridicule to European travellers.
No President has copied his example
since ; though it is not hard to perceive
that the levees at the White House smack
yet of the leveling policy introduced by
Jefferson. Nor did he stop here with
what he doubtless deemed a system of



democratic reform. It had been the habit
of Washington and his successor to meet
personally the two houses of Congress on
the day of their assemblage and address
them a speech explanatory of affairs, and
recommending what course of policy
might have suggested itself in the inter-
val of their session. This was the mode
long sanctioned by precedent and by par-
liamentary usage. It is the mode evi-
dently suggested by respect as well as
convenience, and which clothes so august
an occasion with the awe and dignity
suitable to a re-assemblage of the State's
and people's representatives. But Jeffer-
son chose to annul the ancient custom,
and introduced the system of messages,
since practised, and which, of late years,
has been adopted by Presidents as a vehi-
cle to set forth their own policy, to decry
and calumniate their adversaries, and to
bore the Congress with tedious disquisi-
tions, better suited to penny lecturers or
hired journalists than to the Chief Magis-
trate of a powei'ful nation. We are inclin-
ed to think, therefore, that Jefferson placed
the seal of his displeasure on these customs
more with a view to annihilate all traces of
federalism.^ as represented by Washington
and Adams, than from any conscientious
suggestions of reform. The Mazzei letter
had, moreover, fairly committed him to a
sans cuJotte species of democracy, and, al-
though he had labored to explain and pal-
liate the offensive passages of that extraor-
dinary document, he may yet have thought
that consistency required that he should
renounce those " British forms," which he
had so bitterly condemned in George Wash-
ington's official etiquette.

The Inaugural Address of Jefferson
breathed 'sentiments of political toler-
ance, and abounded with expressions of
political harmony, totally unexpected, and
which excited high hopes of his adminis-
trative clemency. We cannot find that he
ever falsified these implied promises. The
latter years of Adams's Presidency had
been marked by a ferocious and virulent
proscription of all who differed politically
with the administration, and the last few
months, especially when it was found that
the federal party had been beaten in the
elections, were disgraced by acts of intole-
rance and selfishness that made the man
and his party odious to a majority of the



186



Thomas Jefferson.



August^



nation. Laws were passed by tlie Federal
Congress which had the air of beneficiary
decrees, and new offices created, it would
seem, only that the President might fill
them with his party and personal favorites,
in time to exclude such as might otherwise
be appointed by the incoming administra-
tion.

To have continued or acquiesced in this
course of conduct, would have been the
worst form of proscription. Jefferson,
therefore, very properly began his adminis-
trative career by displacing numbers of
office-holders who had been appointed main-
ly because of their federal principles, and
filled the vacancies created with democrats.
This course was called for by common
fairness ; and, although we must regard
Jefferson as the author of the fierce party
issiie that yet darkens our political system,
and has converted our Presidential elections
into campaigns, and made tbe preparations
for them a deceitful and despicable game,
we cannot judge him hastily for conforming
his conduct to that equality in the distribu-
tion of offices which the justice of the case
required. He did not procrasiinate or
trifle in the discharge of this duty, but
went to the work with promptness and de-
termination ; and this promptness shielded
him from the annoyances and the influen-
ces of federal " bitter-endism.'' The wail-
ings of the opposition prints were not over
mere smoke or imaginary cases, as at the
beginning of the present Whig adminis-
tration. The heads of the highest in office
fell first and fastest, and the axe of justice
cut its way from the Executive Depart-
ments and from the diplomatic offices, to
the humblest post-office at a county cross
road, and to the most obscure light-house
that lifted its beacon on our coasts. There
was no soft hesitation, no mistimed caution,
no misjudged forbearance. This is a poli-
cy, under such circumstances, as weak as
it is ruinous to those who practise it. It
contributes to strengthen and to quicken
opposition, while it discourages friends. So
far from conciliating political opponents, it
is more apt to induce contempt, and serves
eminently to fan the flame of a malignant
"bitter-endism." The bold proceedings; of
Jefferson hushed while they defied rabid
partisan clamor, and those who had been
ostracised for opinion's sake were placed
on a footing of full equality with the pam-
pered favorites of the late administration.



To this conduct may be traced the primary
sources of that wonderful popularity to
which the democratic administration soon
attained, and which it preserved through a
series of eight eventful years, marked by
acts and measures that blighted the pros-
perity of the country, and threw gloom
and distress over almost every household.
Its enei-gy and decision inspired confidence
among friends, and drew the respect of
enemies. Whatever, therefore, may have
been the motive which induced these re-
movals, the act was just, deserved by those
who had indulged party asperities in their
day of power, and strictly due to those
who had labored to overthrow the reign of
political intolerance and presciiption.

The war which, on his accession, Jeffer-
son waged against the Judiciary and Judi-
cial authority and dignity, was a step very
full of hazard as to the probable deleterious
effects it may have produced on the pub-
lic mind, and must be heartily condemned
by all unbiased historiographers. It was
a branch of the government which he had,
from the first, unscrupulously denounced
and opposed, and notwithstanding his pro-
fessed horror at the appointment of the
"midnight judges" by Adams' expiring
administration, we are inclined to think
that his hostility against the law establish-
ing federal courts throughout the various
states was superinduced mainly by his an-
cient prejudices and unconquerable jeal-
ousy. He evidently had little or no re-
spect for the proceedings of courts of law,
and never hesitated to oppose the power
of the Executive as of higher moment than
the Judiciary arm of the government. The
best evidence of this is furnished by several
letters contained in the fourth volume of
the work before us, as well as by one
among his first official acts. George
Thompson Callender, the Scotch libeller
and defamer of Washington, had published
during the administration of John Adams,
a scurrilous book, entitled, " The^prospect
before us," filled with the most inflamma-
tory appeals, and calculated from its most
atrocious inculcations to produce wide
spread and dangerous discontent among
the lower floating classes of people. He
was ai-rested under the Sedition act, speedi-
ly brought to trial, convicted, and sentenc-
ed to fine and imprisonment. The tribu-
nal before which he had been brought was
the appointed exponent of the Constitution



1850.



Thomas Jefferson.



187



and law, and was clothed with supreme
jurisdiction in such cases. But Jefferson
paid no regard to the facts, the law or the
Court. He pardoned and released Callen-
der, and ordered the U. S. Marshall for
Virginia, to refund the amount of the fine
to which he had been subjected. A letter
to Mr. George Hay, the government at-
torney, who subsequently prosecuted Burr
■with such distinguished ability, unfolds Jef-
ferson's opinion of the dignity of courts of
law, and evinces in the most emphatic
manner, the native despotic tendency of
his temper and disposition. He therein
saj^s, " In the case of Callender, the
judges determined the Sedition Act was
valid, under the Constitution, and exercised
their regular powers of sentencing to fine
and iujprisonment. But his Executive
(Thomas Jefferson), determined that the
Sedition Act was a nullity, under the Con-
stitution, and exercised his regular power
of prohibiting the execution of the sentence,
or rather of executing the real law." We
know of nothing in the civil administrations
of Charles the First, of Cromwell, of Na-
poleon, or of Andrew Jackson, the dicta-
tors of modern times, more high-handed,
in tone and sentiment, or more pernicious
in principle, than such declaration and
such conduct from this great model demo-
cmtic Prcsid nt. The act of pardon was
allowable, and belonged to his office. But
a pardon under the circumstances, and
with this declaration, was an insult to the
Court, and an outrage on the supreme law
of the land ; while the order to refund the
amount of fine, was a fragrant usurpation
of undelegated power. By the same rule
of construction he might just as well have
directed that Callender should receive
every dollar in the Treasury. It so hap-
pened, too, that, in the end, Jefferson was
caught in his own trap. This low-minded
Scotchman, like all other minionsand para-
sites, had his price, and repaid all this of-
ficial liberality by the basest ingratitude.
He had scarcely been released, or purged
of the dungeon's stench, before he applied
to be made postmaster at Richmond. This
Jefferson flatly refused to do, but, at the
same time, tendered the hardy and beggar-
ly applicant with a loan from his private
purse. Callender accepted the loan, but,
dead to all the decencies of life, and fret-



ting with disappointment, (though compli-
mented by his eminent patron as being " a
man of science,") he no sooner pocketed
the money, than in mean revenge, he pub-
lished to the world, that Jefferson had been
his adviser and patron in all his scurrilous
attacks on the two preceding administra-
tions, had furnished him the means of prin-
ting " The Prospect, "and had encouraged
him to all he had undertaken in his career
of political piracies. This act of treachery,
coniino; from a genuine nurseling of una-
dulterated democracy, startled even the
" great Apostle" himself, and seemed to
rouse and ruffle his boasted serenity of tem-
per under personal attacks and vitupera-
tion. Jefferson was forced into the defen-
sive, and wrote several letters in explana-
tion of these charges, and in extenuation
of his friendly conduct towards Callender.
" If there be anything," says a distin-
guished writer, " which is capable of sus-
taining popular government, and keeping
their action within legitimate constitutional
boundaries, it is a learned, self-inspecting,
independent judiciary. To make the ad-
ministration of justice, and all questions on
the excess of power dependent on popular
excitement, is to assume that mere human
passion is the best arbiter of right and
wrong." Widely different from this was
the opinion of Thomas Jefferson. His doc-
trines and his example as respects judicial
tribunals, are highly exceptionable, obnox-
ious to good government, and dangerous
in the extreme. We have seen, in the
case of Callender, that he assumed to de-
clare null and void a law constitutionally
enacted and approved, constitutionally ad-
judged, and constitutionally executed.
Other acts strictly in unison with this may
be easily cited. The case of Duane, an-
other democratic libeller, affords an exact
parallel. During the trial of Aaron Burr,
in which he was the real, though not osten-
sible prosecutor, we find him proposing to



Online LibraryGeorge Hooker ColtonThe American review : a Whig journal of politics, literature, art, and science (Volume 12) → online text (page 33 of 125)